Monday 22 January 2018

Television: Outside the box - ones to watch

Des Bishop's Breaking China, RTE1, Thursday

The Good Wife
The Good Wife
EXPECTANT: The four-part miniseries based on Roman Polanski's iconic horror moves the devilish action from New York to Paris.
Martin Freeman in Fargo
Des Bishop

Paul Whitington

The intrepid comic spends a year in Beijing learning Chinese and performing stand-up, but things don't exactly go according to plan.

As a sideline to his main career as a stand-up comic, Des Bishop has made a series of light-hearted documentaries over the past decade investigating everything from minimum wage employees to some of Ireland's most deprived inner city areas.

In his 2008 show 'In the Name of the Fada', he moved to the Gaeltacht to learn Irish, and in this entertaining new documentary series he takes on a much bigger challenge.

Bishop has been fascinated with all things Chinese since he was a child. In Queens, where he grew up, there was a thriving, bustling Chinatown, and he remembers watching endless Hong Kong kung fu movies on television, like a little "crouching couch potato". For 'Des Bishop's Breaking China', he spent a year in Beijing learning Mandarin before taking on perhaps comedy's ultimate challenge – performing a stand-up routine before a local audience in the Chinese language.

He moves in with a middle-class family who quickly warm to him despite the linguistic barriers. When he does comic dances for the couple's little girl, she pointedly blanks him, but the granny takes him under her wing and begins endlessly feeding him. He eventually learns enough Mandarin to tell his hosts what he does for a living, but due to Des's indifferent pronunciation they end up wondering if he's a comic or an opera singer, and if he can even tell the difference.

His endeavours to interact with Chinese people are heroic – he swims in a frozen lake with hardy locals and hosts an impromptu DIY St Patrick's Day parade in Dongying. He's actually very good with people, and eventually discovers that behind the gruffness the Chinese are extremely hospitable.

And when he finally performs for them, they laugh, but not always at the right moments. It's a sweet show.

Fargo

Channel 4, late April

The Coen brothers' cult 1996 movie has been turned into a black comedy starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton.

In a clever teaser ad for 'Fargo' that was released in America a few weeks back, two burly men drag a suspiciously heavy item across a frozen lake and stop at a hole in the ice. Using sign language, one tells the other "the hole's too small", while the other signals that "the guy's too fat". As the ad ends, a chainsaw is noisily cranked up.

Produced by the Coens, this aims to recapture the darkly comic tone of the film, but will feature none of the original characters and tell an entirely new story.

Well, almost. In the 1996 movie, William H Macy played a greedy Minnesota car salesman who tried to emerge from the shadow of his overbearing millionaire father-in-law by having his wife kidnapped and arranging to split the ransom with the criminals. Of course, it all went wrong, as he was doggedly tracked down by a doughty smalltown policewoman, played by Frances McDormand.

In the TV series, which begins on FX in America this week and will air on Channel 4 at the end of the month, Freeman stars as Lester Nygaard, a downtrodden insurance salesman who sees a possible way out of his dreary and humdrum life when he comes under the sway of a mysterious stranger.

Lorne Malvo (Thornton) swaggers into a snowbound Fargo and is clearly up to no good. And after bumping into Lester, he starts getting into his head and urging him to violently stand up to his boss, his wife and anyone else who happens to be in his way.

Allison Tolman plays the policewoman who'll eventually have to clean up their mess, and early clips of the show look promising. Expect deadpan jokes and lots of blood if you do decide to tune in.

Rosemary's Baby

NBC, May

Roman Polanski's iconic horror film has been adapted into a four-part mini-series starring Zoe Saldana.

Continuing the growing trend for turning classic movies into TV shows, American network NBC has just finished shooting a remake of Roman Polanski's 1968 supernatural thriller Rosemary's Baby.

Zoe Saldana will take on the part of Rosemary Woodhouse, a role originally played by a young Mia Farrow, and early ads for the four-part mini-series show Saldana looking worried and staring into a pram under the ominous banner: Fear is born.

In Polanski's film, the young and naive Rosemary moved into a new Manhattan apartment with her actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) and slowly realised they were living next door to Satanists.

After Guy had been bought off with a plum role in a Broadway play (that's actors for you), poor Rosemary was drugged and impregnated by the devil, which of course led to all sorts of embarrassing complications.

While the film was shot in and around New York's iconic Dakota building, the new TV version has shifted the action to Paris, where an older but no less wise Rosemary falls foul of a French cult after moving there with Guy, played by Patrick J Adams.

The series will stand or fall on how well they deal with the story's supernatural elements, but it starts next month in the US and will no doubt be picked up by someone over here.

The Good Wife

More 4, Thursdays

A dramatic plot twist in the latest series of the hit drama has shocked and outraged fans in the US.

Before we proceed, I must loudly say – spoiler alert! And I repeat, spoiler alert! Anyone who watches The Good Wife on More 4 or RTE may not want to read about an upcoming twist in the Alicia-Will saga that has shocked fans in the US and led to an outpouring of grief on the internet. In an episode of series five entitled 'Dramatics, Your Honor', Will Gardner was shot in open court by a murder suspect called Jeffrey Grant and later died in hospital.

He and Alicia had been at war since she left Lockhart Gardner to start her own firm, but before he died Will had called Alicia and left a softly spoken message saying he wanted to talk to her. It's a clever cliffhanger, but the great unwashed were not amused and deluged Twitter with unhappy messages.

Such was the commotion that CBS got veteran broadcaster Charlie Rose to host an evening at Manhattan's Ed Sullivan Theatre where 100 guests watched the next episode and were talked through Will's passing by the programme's creators, Michelle and Robert King, and its stars, Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles, who plays the unfortunate Will.

It turns out Charles had wanted to leave the series for a while. Margulies had persuaded him to stay on after the end of season four so they could cook up an appropriately dramatic departure for his character, and they've certainly succeeded in that. Charles revealed that he'd got a call from a Chicago estate agent immediately after the episode, asking him: "Does this mean you're moving back to LA – because I'd love to sell your apartment."

And when a fan on Twitter told him her mother was upset about Will's death, Charles called the woman personally to sympathise. "She was devastated," he said. "But I talked her through it."

The show, meanwhile, will struggle on without him, but it won't be easy. Much of its dramatic tension stemmed from the ongoing, simmering and unresolved passion between Will and Alicia, who refuses to leave her prostitute-using politician husband. With no Will to moon over, what will she have left?

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